Those Love/Hate Books

Mary Swans debut novel, which I discussed yesterday, still has me stumped as to whether I liked it or not. I could analyse it for weeks but I think it might simply be one of those books that I always feel that way about. The good thing about books like that is that they can cause a great discussion, book groups where members love and loathe books in equal measure are the ones that often have the best results. So I thought that love and hate relationships we have with certain books might make for a nice little discussion post for this Monday in May.

‘The Boys in the Trees’ is not the only book that despite being rather wonderfully written has left me with mixed feelings. ‘The Heart of Darkness’, ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘Wuthering Heights’ are classics that have all had that effect, though over time I have gone off them rather than the other way.  Ha, if you look at that paragraph it almost sounds like I am saying ‘The Boys in the Trees’ could be one of the next greats, you never know! What I do know is that I don’t like being left feeling ‘on the fence’ or ambivalent, I want to love or loathe a book (preferably love) which is really rather unrealistic but is it not human nature?

Oddly I still want to read Mary Swan’s short stories despite my initial reactions to a wonderfully written book that just wasn’t for me! I am not someone who lets one book I personally didn’t get (and I do tend to blame myself and not the book with an ‘it’s not you it’s me’ attitude) put me off an author. I don’t rush out and buy another book by that author I will admit but if someone raved about a book by an author I tried once and didn’t get on with I would still give it a go. I am a ‘two strikes and you’re out’ kind of reader though. I can only imagine me breaking that rule for an author I have loved who has written 10+ books of which two might have fallen a little flat with me. When do you write off an author?

How many times have we picked up a book we have been 100% sure that we will love only to really loath it? What about when we have started a book we were determined to utterly despise and then only went and loved the damned thing? What about the books that leave us ambivalent or we love and hate all at once? I am going to have a think about mine further and come back to you as the day progresses. What bookish tales of love, hate or both have you got to share? I wonder if there will be a trend with any of them?


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39 responses to “Those Love/Hate Books

  1. Interesting post, Simon. (Yes, I’m back, and only have about 400 blog posts to catch up on.)

    I often find that I am out of sync with some of the more popular books that everyone raves about. For instance, I loathed ‘The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society’ and Chris Cleaves’ ‘The Other Hand’. More recently I have wondered what all the fuss is about with ‘Jasper Jones’ (review scheduled on my blog later in the week), which to me seemed fairly mediocre.

    But I guess it would be a boring world if we all liked the same stuff, right?

    • Hoorah for you being back Kim, have missed your posts though am sure you wish you were still wandering teh countryside in search of quaint book shops and Guiness hee hee.

      Hahaha the two you loathed I really rather liked but s you say that makes it all the more intersting, we are firmly agreed on Jasper Jones though, couldnt be doing with it.

  2. I think catcher in the rye is the ultimate book like this so I’m not surpriesed you’ve listed it. I personally loved it but I could not tell you why.

    One book where I honestly don’t know if I liked it or not is Cormac McCarthys Blood Meridian. I’ve thought about it loads, can I say I liked a book which is filled with so much violence it becomes tedious? On the other hand how can I not like a book which has such a rich prose and contains lines lie this…

    It makes no difference what men think of war, said the judge. War endures. As well ask men what they think of stone. War was always here. Before man was, war waited for him.

    Sorry that a long answer but I still dont know.

    • Oh I just did not get on with Catcher in the Rye and the thing is I really wanted to. I kept my copy though for two reasons, firstly because I want to try again one day and secondly because I like people knowing I have managed it when they come round and nosey at my bookshelves.

      Haven’t read Blood Meridian but have contemplated it!

  3. I have a problem with Catcher in the Rye. I didn’t read it when I was the right age to do so (about 15?), but as a grandmother who wants to see what all the fuss is about. My goodness! This boy doesn’t like his life. Too bad. He should stop whining and putting other people down. Also the language irritated me. I know, I know, Salinger is trying to take into the mindset of the boy, but the repetitious canned language just made me want to go listen to someone else for a while.

    • I think maybe I came to Catcher in the Rye at the wrong time too. Mind you my mother is an english teacher and she said its one of the most overrated books ever, she can’t abide it either. Its a bit of a classic everyone feels they must read and should love.

  4. Sue

    I loved and hated ‘The Bookshop’ by Penelpoe Fitzgerald because it wasn’t until the very end that you find out how horrible all of the characters are (or at least I didn’t see it coming which probably says more about me). I guess I wanted it to be a ‘nice’ story about an old lady overcoming adversity. What it illustrates is how lazy I have become in my reading – I expect it all to be dished up for me like fat food. Once I got over the annoyance of the ending and I started thinking about it – which I have done alot I’m moving over to the ‘love’ side. All that remains to firmly move he book from the charity pile to the bookshelf is to re-read knowing what I know and picking out all the clues.

    • Ooooh thats interesting Sue because The Bookshop is a book that I have had on my radar for quite some time and yet not bought. One of those ‘if I see it at the library’ kind of books.

      I think maybe a re-read could be good… or incredibly bad, ha!

  5. Sue

    Of course that should read ‘fast’ not ‘fat’ food!

  6. Great topic for a post! I have had that reaction to books. I was positive that I was going to love Little Bee by Chris Cleave and I hated that book. It was complete rubbish and I just didn’t understand what all the hoopla was about. The same goes for Life of Pi by Yann Martel. Ugh! Must admit that after loathing Heart of Darkness I was sure I would dislike everything written by Conrad, but I wound up loving Under Western Eyes and realized what a talented writer he was. Its interesting the expectations we have of certain books and the reactions we wind up having. Makes for great discussion.

    • I liked Little Bee but I know its been very much a love/hate book and some of you have commented on this title in particular today which I find most interesting.

      I hated Heart of Darkness but its not put me off the author, I need two or three duds for that.

  7. I felt that way about Margaret Atwood’s Penelopiad. I was in a Greek Classics class a couple of years ago and, since we were reading The Odyssey etc., my friend and I thought we should read Penelopiad for fun. I’ve never enjoyed Atwood’s novels (ever) but this one was unexpectedly fun and hilarious.

    -Lydia @ The Literary Lollipop

    • Oh I thought you were going to say you didn’t like it and it was dire ha! Its promising you liked it if you don’t normally like Atwood as she is one of my fav’s.

  8. I don’t think I have a particular classic, but one book I expected to really enjoy but did not was Elizabeth Kostova’s The Historian. It fell very flat for me.

  9. I am still working on The Historian. Not only was I sure would love it, when people ask, I still say it’s a good book–I like the setting and the story. but it’s been five months and I still haven’t finished it.

    For me, love/hate books always seem to become favorites. The first few Joyce Carol Oates books I read were like that–and I just came to like them. The same with David Sedaris and Toni Morrison, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman–all are authors I’m crazy about now. When a book challenges me-shows me something really new that I have to get used to, I’m not sure about it.
    Then, later, I fall in love with it.

    • Oh The Historian again… hmmm nope think I might skip this one its too long to be a ‘love/hate’ book though I know lots have people have raved about it!

      I must read Joyce Carol Oates, Gran has been saying that I should for ages!

  10. Sue

    Aari I am so with you on that one. I listened to ‘The Historian’ on an unabridged audio book and regretted not having read it instead because with an audio book you can’t speed read to the end to find out how the blasted things end. It annoyed me intesely and in my opinion would have benefited by being half the length!

  11. lizzysiddal

    “The Alchemist” – just dreadful – though I’m probably the only one in the world who thinks so.

    “Wuthering Heights” – Hate, hate, hate it – yet now that I’ve met someone with an even bigger chip on their shoulder i.e a real-life Heathcliffe, I may just get it.

  12. Wuthering Heights is up there on the list for me. I was sure I’d love it, and I think I did like it and was entertained, but those people are just miserable asses. Recently, I finished The Unnamed, which has really made its rounds. I think I liked it, but it left me sad and confused. So I’m not sure.

    • Wuthering Heights seems to be another poular choice. I think for me it was just that the lead characters were so utterly vile, I didn’t care if one of them or both of them died, could they just hurry up about it?

  13. kimberlyloomis

    Simon, this is a great post and a wonderful topic. I agree with you – I’d rather love a book, possibly even hate it, than stand somewhere in the realm of ambivalence. First books that come to mind that I didn’t like but thought I would are: Brooklyn by Colm Toibin; Little Bee by Chris Cleave (I’m so with Nadia on that one on every possible level); Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger; Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.

    • Interesting as the first three you mentioned I loved Kimberly but at the same time can completely understand why people wouldn’t… oooh this is interesting.

  14. Heart of Darkness, which I hated when I had to read it at school, but absolutely adored when I read it last year…then I wondered if that was an age thing, a ‘better understanding’ thing, or what? I was just grateful that being in a book club meant I was forced to read it again…otherwise, I’de NEVER have picked it up and missed out on an awful lot.

  15. So many people love The Pillars of the Earth yet I found it to be one of the most excruciating reads ever despite loving the architectural descriptions. And then there was Kristin Lavransdatter. Nobel Prize or not – HATED it.

    Think that book lovers are often hesitant to find fault with any book of some merit because it disparages the love of the book as a whole just a little. Looking for the good in something is just not possible at times though. Interesting post!

    • I have to admit The Pillars of the Earth has yet to appeal to me but I have heard marvellous things about it also.

      The posts you and Richard wrote on Kristin had me in stitches, hilarious.

  16. I don’t write authors off that quickly, but I do wait a while before giving them another try! Some authors, especially (I’m thinking Atwood, McCarthy), are known for trying different styles and tackling different topics, so I’m fine with accepting that I may love some of their stuff but not all of it.

    • I don’t tend to write them off until bad book three and then I just think more fool me, ha! I agree with you 100% on Atwood so many different styles one might not quite be for you (though I personally am yet to find one)!

  17. novelinsights

    I really hated The Heart of Darkness when I read it at uni, but then I recently bought a copy as I have a feeling a re-read will turn me.

    I had a bit of a hate-hate relationship with Ursula le Guin’s The Dispossessed but in hindsight it was very well written.

    Interesting post Simon!

    • I don’t think I could bring myself to re-read it unless it was a choice for Rogue Book Group or Riverside Readers to be honest… we need to have a new Rogue title soon me thinks… oh my goodness maybe Peyton Place when we go caravaning me you and the Mitch!

  18. Ahhh the love/hate issue. You know what’s funny is that so many times reading a book I think this, then I have a hard time articulating my thoughts on it, but looking back I can’t really pick out any single book that fits! I think the longer it goes after reading the more my thoughts solidify one way or the other.

    • You are totally right Amy, though I have to say my thoughts on two or three books have remained a little ambivilent. on the whole though after a while my mind goes one way or the other hence why am giving myself a breather from a book before I write about it!!

  19. Pingback: The New House – Lettice Cooper « Savidge Reads

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